One of the most fun events of last year's award season was the somewhat under the radar BAFTA Britannia Awards. In 2009, Ben Stiller gave one of the most memorable and hilarious tributes I've ever heard to recipient Robert De Niro that had the crowd, and De Niro, in hysterics. And that didn't even take into account Stephen Fry's witty and confident hosting or the impressive line of stars who appeared to honor the prestigious organizations winners. A year later, the show is finally getting some broadcast love from TV Guide Network in the United States and BAFTA LA chairman Nigel Lythgoe (yep, the "So You Think You Can Dance" judge) announced the show would also be seen in the UK, Europe, Latin America and parts of Southeast Asia. And with this year's winners including Betty White, Jeff Bridges, Martin Sheen, Christopher Nolan and Ridley and Tony Scott, anticipation was high for another classy event.
Stephen Fry kicked off the main part of the show prophetizing why he enjoys hosting this show so much: no one loses. Plus, Fry correctly noted that you never hear anyone complain about an awards show that is short, "'Yeah, it was good, but it was too short.' We are short and sweet."
The other benefit as a host is that because the winners are announced before hand, he doesn't have to deal with 3/4's of the room being in a pissy mood because they lost as the show winds down. It's hard to get people to laugh when they can't believe they lost to that guy or girl. But as he promised: short and sweet. Fry quickly cues up the portion of the show dedicated to the winner of the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy, Betty White. And, yes, cue standing ovation #1 of the night.
Introduced by her "Hot in Cleveland" co-stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves (Brit!) and Wendie Malick as well as Jane Lynch, White's speech was more touching and emotional than you'd expect from some of her recent award show appearances. She did however joke that when she referred to herself as old she meant "in a facetious way of course." To be honest, White looked a bit more tired than she has over the past year and it was noteworthy that she kicked off the show (she did not return to her seat afterward). But, as Fry breathless remarked after she walked off stage, "I've touched Betty White. My life is complete." I know the feeling.
Next up was Cillian Murphy who was on hand to introduce a reel of Christopher Nolan's seven remarkable films in just 12 short years. Murphy smartly observed that ever since he's worked with Nolan in "Batman Begins," "he's been putting a bag on my head ever since." Wonderfully cut reel plays and cue standing ovation #2. (In fact, every winner got a standing ovation on this night.)
Nolan's "Inception" star Marion Cotillard, looking as stunning as ever, then handed the filmmaker with the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Directing. Nolan, who has become more comfortable in the spotlight over the years, gave a short, dry and classy speech which ended with his giving a shout out to Ridley and Tony Scott saying he hoped they didn't notice he'd "been ripping them off for years. (For Nolan, that's as close to humor as you're gonna get, but it worked.)
Quickly moving on, Carey Mulligan, last year's BAFTA winner for Best Actress for "An Education," provided the initial clip reel intro for British Artist of the Year recipient Michael Sheen. Most Americans have just recently started to recognize the actor best known for his roles in "Underworld," "Frost/Nixon" and, yep, "The Twilight Saga New Moon." Mulligan admitted she didn't know Sheen personally (sort of odd that she was presenting to him), but was a huge fan of his work. After another well cut reel played, Sheen's "New Moon" co-star Dakota Fanning appeared. Now, before we get to Sheen's hilarious remarks, it's got to be said that if you're gonna reward someone with a prestigious honor it would be nice to have one of his presenters actually connect with him in a legitimate and noteworthy way. Is the "Twilight" connection that important for ratings on TV Guide Network? In fact, Fanning's speech talked almost exclusively and in excruciating detail about her few days working with Sheen on "New Moon" and then -- I can't make this up --, their time together doing junket press together for the film. It was a fine speech for a 16-year-old (she no doubt wrote it), but unacceptable for an award like this. Sorry, truth hurts sometimes.
In any event, after thanking both ladies, Sheen tore the house down with a slew of one liners that couldn't have been on any prepared speech beforehand. Intent on getting Fry, his "Wilde" co-star and longtime friend, to burst out laughing, it will be curious what TV Guide decides is suitable for airing on the edited show. Namely, after hosting the show and presenting for other winners, he joked, "I suspect they gave me this so I won't keep showing up." And as for Fanning and Mulligan, "I kept thinking they thought they were her to talk about Martin Sheen." And then, he got to the famously out Fry, "The man I had my first screen kiss with." Pause. "You never cease to engorge me." Shocked laughter, but Sheen isn't finished. "He was the first man to give me a swift buggering." Huge laugh. Sheen then notes that his gay love scenes in "Wilde" sometimes hit him "like an acid flashback. I walk down the street and get an odd quiver [you know where]." At this point, the audience is dying, Fry is on the side laughing so hard he's red faced and Fanning must be wondering what she got herself into on a school night. Keep your fingers crossed most of it, including much of what I missed, makes it on the final broadcast.
It's hard for anyone to follow Sheen's performance, but Jerry Bruckheimer gives it the old college try as he introduces a sizzle reel for Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and their Scott Free production banner. The prolific brothers and their company were honored with the Britannia Award for Contributions to Worldwide Entertainment. Bruckheimer isn't always the most comfortable public speaker, but for those that have met him, it's clear he was immensely proud to be part of a celebration for his collaborators on "Crimson Tide," "Top Gun" and "Black Hawk Down." The reel itself was impressive for including the films and TV shows the legendary brothers have produced, but not directed including "The Gathering Storm," "RKO 281," "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Into the Storm," "Cyrus," "The A-Team," "Welcome to the Rileys," "Numb3rs," The Good Wife" and the upcoming "PIllars of the Earth." It also featured intriguing footage of Ridley's first ever short film (made for 65 pounds) and Tony's student film which features Ridley playing a confederate soldier.
Rosario Dawson, who stars in Tony's upcoming thriller "Unstoppable," then appeared on stage to actually present the award to the brothers. Yes, we love Rosario, but she's the one to give the award to two of the most iconic filmmakers in history? That's a little too blatant a plug Fox.
The Scott's, who kept reminding everyone they preferred to be behind the camera than in front of it (or on stage it seems), went a bit too far down memory lane in their acceptance speech, but gladly took the award home. Whew.
Last, but hardly least, was none other than this year's Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film winner, Jeff Bridges. Like Sheen, his presenters were a bit unexpected and, well, calculated? Bridges "Tron: Legacy" co-star Olivia Wilde presented Bridge's clip reel and, thankfully, she gave a smart, funny and pointed speech that frankly surprised the audience and made this writer love her just a bit more. The reel itself showcased Bridges impressive body of work, but was surprisingly short on "Starman" and "Fisher King" clips and had way, way way too much "Tron Legacy" and "True Grit" scenes included (more on that later).
In a surprise, Kevin Spacey appeared next to give the statue to Bridges. The duo appeared together in "K-Pax" and "The Men Who Stare at Goats," but the connection between the two wasn't really explained adequately and the audience seemed disjointed by Spacey's appearance. It didn't help that the creative director of the Old Vic in London awkwardly started off his remarks with a bad Jack Nicholson impression and also included impressions of Bill Clinton and Morgan Freeman. It seemed just a little bit too much about Kevin and not enough about Jeff.
In any event, Bridges was as charming and naturally blunt as usual. The Hollywood lifer has improved his awards speeches considerably since being on the circuit last year for "Crazy Heart" and tonight was no exception. He joked about how he could no longer play the "I've been ignored" card any longer, gave major props to his brother Beau asking any producers in the room to find them a project to make together and ended with a winning anecdote about his British grandfather from Liverpool who couldn't belief his father was a professional actor. In fact, he dedicated the award to him.
And with that, another Britannia Awards was in the books. A fun night for all and a classy event. However, a quick note to BAFTA LA regarding next year's show. No one was happier than this writer that the Britannia's will be aired on TV this year, but that shouldn't mean you succumb so easily to studio pressures regarding the presenters and footage around the winners. All the recipients were incredibly deserving of their awards this year, but the abundance of "Tron Legacy" footage in both Sheen and Bridge's clip reels was ludicrous. Scott's "Unstoppable" connection was over the top and Sheen's presenters were unacceptable. The Britannias are a great event that needs more nation and worldwide recognition, but what made them such an undiscovered media secret shouldn't be ruined just for the sake of TV.
You can watch the 2010 BAFTA LA Britannia Awards beginning at 7:30 PM this Sunday on TV Guide Network. For a gallery of all the stars who attended the event, click here.